COLUMBIA - Don't get Lou Holtz wrong.
He loves South Carolina's fans, the very same ones that kept filling Williams-Brice Stadium in the middle of his first year in 1999, a season the Gamecocks ended 0-11.
Holtz just doesn't necessarily want the program to hang its hat on them.
"All we talk about is our fans, not great comebacks and winning big ball games and making plays in close times and being a team," Holtz said.
"That's one thing I want, more than anything, is to be a team."
Welcome to professor Lou Holtz's crash course on turning a program around: Football culture alteration 101.
It's a pass-fail course. Grades come out after 13 weeks. The instructor is also subject to examination.
Holtz started putting material out for his class - literally - earlier this year.
He told his players after last year's 5-7 season ended that a course teaching various character-building life lessons would be required Monday nights during the spring semester.
Some groaned, some moaned. Everyone went.
Senior center John Strickland said, for the most part, the players liked the class - taught by Holtz and a few other assistants, like new defensive coordinator Rick Minter.
"It was definitely interesting," Strickland said. "I thought it was kind of fun."
Holtz said he closed each class by asking players to identify some tenets of their own evolving philosophies.
The beliefs of the 67-year-old head coach seem to be in a state of evolution as well.
As evidenced by the class, and his stopping by the locker room most days after practice, Holtz is trying to build better relationships with his players.
He also relaxed his stringent grooming rules to a less military standard.
Even the uniforms, at the players' requests, were altered to become more dominantly black.
"I told them it's going to be hot," Holtz said.
The hard-nosed Holtz is still around, too, though.
He took away scholarships from seven players for the second session of summer school, thus making the players work out on their own most of the summer.
Running back Demetris Summers and defensive end Moe Thompson were the starters affected by the suspension. Running back Cory Boyd, safety Jamacia Jackson, quarterback Syvelle Newton and linebackers Ryan Brown and Curtis Rice were reserves serving the suspension.
"He made a decision, and I had to serve the discipline," Summers said. "I just tried my best to get back on the team."
The final requirement to rejoin for the seven players was to run 30 40-yard dashes in a certain amount of time, which differed depending on position.
For instance, Summers was required to run a 4.8 each time.
He passed on the third attempt, meaning he ran 90 dashes in a little more than a week, not to mention any other conditioning on his docket.
Good guy or bad guy, welcome to Camp Lou.
"This is just the way the program's going to be run and it's the direction we're going to go and this is how we're going to get there," Holtz said of the avalanche of changes.
"It wasn't to send a message to anybody."
Enough of a telegram was shipped out in early December when, on the heels of the Gamecocks' 63-17 loss to Clemson and their second consecutive 5-7 season, four assistants were fired, including defensive coordinator Chris Cosh. Skip Holtz was demoted from offensive coordinator to quarterbacks coach.
One other assistant left soon after on his own to join the newly formed Arizona coaching staff.
The following coaches were hired in the first two months of this year: Ron Cooper (defensive backs), Rick Stockstill (wide recivers), Steve Shankweiler (offensive line), David Reaves (defensive backs assistant) and Minter (defensive coordinator/linebackers).
"This staff is on the same page," Holtz said. "We're all focused on one thing, and that's winning.
"I don't need problem-finders. I can find enough problems myself. I need problem-solvers."
New staff. New uniforms. New hair lengths. What else?
Holtz hopes new attitude.
"It has got to change, and I believe it is changing," Holtz said. "The pendulum is going back, but it's got to continue to go.
"It's going to be up to the players and up to us, but hopefully we've got a plan to keep that thing going in the right direction."
Reach Travis Haney at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AT A GLANCE
South Carolina Coach: Lou Holtz, 243-127-7 overall, 27-32 in five years at South Carolina.Starters returning: 17 (9 offense, 6 defense, 2 special teams)Key returnee: RB Demetris SummersKey to success: If Holtz's attempt to revamp the Gamecocks' attitudes works out, they might ease into a bowl, their first since 2001.Trouble area: South Carolina lost 63-17 to Clemson at home last year. This year the game is at Death Valley and the Tigers are better. Uh, oh.Circle the calendar: Sept. 4, at Vanderbilt. Nothing like a loss to Vandy to sour your season from the start. The Gamecocks are hoping to avoid such a first chapter.Projected finish: Fourth in SEC East.
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